Souvenir Buying
By: H. Rajana ( June, 2001 Volume 1 No.2 )

Souvenirs. In Cambodia, the choice seems endless. How can you decide? Where should you go?
From woodcarvings to silverware, paintings of the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple or statuettes of Cambodia's celestial dancers, the Apsara, the array of potential gifts is endless. The Khmer people of today are masterful creators of handicrafts and arts. The textiles of Cambodia, such as the beautiful silk available at almost any market in Phnom Penh, are also renowned. Leather goods, gems and paintings are other items that prove perennially popular with tourists from all continents. Bas-relief carvings in wood, silver or stone are also much sought after.
There are hundreds of places just in Phnom Penh for tourists to explore for that perfect memento besides the few major "duty-free" shops usually promoted by tour and travel agencies. Although most of these places may offer somewhat similar products, some of the shops do have some unique items brought to them by villagers from distant province. Some of these products are unique and typical of the place where they come from. For example, fine silk pieces with motifs of little elephants are typically from the province of Takeo. Artistic miniature earthenware is uniquely the product of Kampong Chhnang. These make good souvenirs to take home for friends. Below are a few good places in Phnom Penh to visit for souvenirs:
- Psar Thom Thmei (New Grand Market) is commonly referred to as the Central Market. The front entrance to this amazing structure is flanked by legions of souvenir shops selling a daunting array of goods to suit almost any budget and taste. In the middle under the central dome are shops selling diamonds, precious stones, watches and gold and silver items. The eastern section of the building houses stalls offering silver and woodcarvings of various patterns and designs ranging from likenesses of mythical characters of Khmer legend to statues of the Buddha or the Lord Vishnu.
Here, one can also find silk products like the sampots (Khmer skirts) and krama (the ubiquitous chequered scarf of Cambodia) as well as fresh flowers. The western side of the building is where locals would go to when shopping for household pots and pans, shoes and ordinary clothes. The other sections sell fresh produce, fish, pork, groceries, fresh fruits, potted-plants - even pets!-Psar -
Olympic (Olympic Market) is basically a wholesale market, but tucked away on the second floor, one can still find gold jewellery, diamonds and wide range of precious stones. There are rubies, sapphires, emeralds, jade pieces and more. The prices for rubies and sapphires from the Pailin region of western Cambodia are a little higher than those imported from Thailand, Vietnam or Burma. This is because the colors of these stones are said to be more radiant and the quality better.
- Psar Tuol Toum Poung (Russian Market) has been known by its incongruous English name since the 1980s, probably because there were many Russians and Russian goods alike then at this covered market south of Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. Now this market is the best place in town for souvenir hunting. Especially on weekends, it is crowded with more foreigners than locals, bargaining for everything from clothes to shoes, silks sampots and handbags, woodcarvings, compact discs, antiques or pottery. There are plenty of bargains to be had and a few genuine antiques to be found. Genuine Gap clothing and other well-known labels abound at prices that must be the cheapest in the world.
- Art Galleries: The bulk of these are situated on 178 Street, between the National Museum and Wat Sarawan. When rolled up, paintings are light and easy to transport home for friends.
- Antique Shops: About l00m from the Royal Palace and towards the National Museum on Sothearos Boulevard are a scattering of "antique shops". There bargain hunters can find silver trays, betel boxes, belts, old coins, silver statuettes and Pursat marble carvings.
Purchasing a souvenir from Cambodia means that traveler takes a memory of the Kingdom of Cambodia with them to keep forever. Every item sold encourages local artists to keep producing their fine work for the next tourist to purchase and enjoy. Bargain firmly, but always with a smile, and shopping in Cambodia can be one of your fondest memories of a friendly, easygoing country.
Welcome to Cambodia.